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The Ganskopf Collection: Epilogue

(This is the FINAL final episode, the Epilogue to an eight part series. To read all the episodes, click here: The Ganskopf Incident or on The Ganskopf Incident category in the sidebar to the left. The earliest posts are at the bottom, scroll down to read them chronologically from the bottom up.)

“That’s what conservation departments are for.”

That remark by Dr. Danneru stayed with me a long time, quite as long as the shock of seeing the fragile amber “fetish” destroyed by infinitesimally improbable misfortune and scofflaw beverage consumption. His controlled tone was either supremely insensitive or genuinely kind: either a willful effort to deny the magnitude of the loss, or a desperate reassurance intended to put things in perspective for us. I’ve never been able to decide which. Coming from the person most responsible for the disaster, it was certainly self-serving.

In any case, the statement was mere bravado – the piece was unrecoverable, as he must have known. My stained, smeared drawing of it was used as evidence in the insurance inquiry and subsequent lawsuit, and I had to return to Lassiter for a day in court where I answered a lot of questions asked by precisely-speaking men in expensive suits. Surprisingly, the question of tea never came up. Apparently ranks had been closed in the face of investigation, perhaps agreements reached. Museums, collectors, academia, and the legal profession are a squabbling ménage, yet they perennially cohabit, with law enforcement and insurance their prying neighbors, ears pressed hard to the walls.

I never heard the outcome of the case, but I was fascinated to hear that the monetary figure in question – the insured value of the shattered piece – was put at an amount well above what I could earn in a year. This official valuation had been provided by an unexpected expert witness: Dr. Darius Danneru, PhD, MacCormack University, member ESSA, ICER, fellow of the Szeringka Institute, etc etc, who, it seemed to me, was hardly impartial in the matter but who turned out to be the world’s leading expert on the subject, which explains a lot.

Except for a final payment for the straw owls drawing, I never heard from Dr. Harrower again, or went back to the Ganskopf Collection to draw. I don’t know if this was because the project was finished anyway, or if it ended precipitously as a result of the calamitous mishap. There had been dialog between us concerning the drawing of the archaic stone owls, which Dr. Harrower insisted he hadn’t requested, and so did not intend to pay for. Rather than pressing for payment, I called him to ask for the drawing back. In a refined Texas drawl, he politely agreed to send it, but the only thing the mail ever brought was an apology from him with a message that he seemed to have misplaced the drawing. I let it drop at that.

My other drawings of owl “fetishes” eventually appeared (without credit, to my astonishment and irritation) in a popular archæology magazine – a news stand “glossy” – accompanying a fluffy article about mystery artifacts by Dr. Harrower, confirming the moonlighting theory. I thought the illustrations looked pretty good, despite the printer having used a heavy-handed red in the page (nobody thought to send me the color proofs to check), and the layout was a welcome addition to my portfolio. Of course I’m no expert, but the text seemed somewhat trivial to me; and I keep recalling that poorly restrained, haughty sniff Dr. Harrower’s colleague had emitted at the mention of his name.

Strangely, not long after the incident I received a cold-call from someone named Rory Zohn at NEMECH, the New Elgin Museum of Cultural History, inviting me to interview for a full time position as Illustrator for the Unsecured Antiquities Collection. The interview got off to an odd start: Dr. Zohn’s first question wasn’t to see my portfolio or about previous job experience, but to ask me to recount the Ganskopf incident, even though he seemed to already know a lot about it. I didn’t leave anything out or spare anyone, including Dr. Danneru and his illicit mug of tea, and when I got to the comment about conservation departments, my interviewer just shook his head, muttering something that sounded like “supercilious bastard,” but clearly smiling behind his beard. I got the job, and I’ve been working there since, now fully acquainted with what “unsecured antiquities” are, and glad to not be surviving on freelance work alone. Stranger still, just last week while rummaging through a flat file at work, I found the archaic stone owls drawing. Rory said he’d had it for quite a while but had forgotten, and I was supposed to take it home. Somehow, distracted by his bad joke about the owls finally coming home to roost, I never heard how they had come to him.

I’ve always wondered what happened to Miss Laguna – almost immediately after the incident, her name was gone from the staff roster on the Gankopf Foundation website. I couldn’t find out if the poor woman had been fired, or if she had quit. Perhaps she had fallen back on her night job. I wondered if anyone – like for instance the person whose carelessness had lost her her career – had made any effort on her behalf. Considering his apparent lack of concern about the shattered “fetish”, it seemed unlikely. Yet, thinking of my own out-of-the-blue offer of a plum job at NEMECH, I had to admit it wasn’t impossible.

One thing I know with certainty: whoever replaced Miss Laguna as Ganskopf Librarian is bound to be a dragon for regulations concerning food and drink in the reading room. That was one damn costly mug of tea.



Coming soon, the next series, a prequel to the Ganskopf Incident:

“What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah”

or, Dario and the Mother of Owls


Posted by Allison on Sep 13th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (1)

The Ganskopf Collection: the Scholar, the Artist, the Librarian

(This is the eighth and final installment in a series. To read previous episodes, click here: The Ganskopf Incident or on The Ganskopf Incident category in the sidebar to the left. The earliest posts are at the bottom, scroll down to read them chronologically from the bottom up.)

As [Danneru] turned, a little tea sloshed from his cup onto the floor, but he moved away without noticing. Miss Laguna had gone to retrieve the desired journal, and I was face to face with the fragrant artifact…

Realizing that this was a piece I wouldn’t have another chance to see, let alone draw, I sketched carefully but fast. Also, Dr. Danneru was watching me work, which I found moderately irritating. After Miss Laguna had brought the dull green journal he’d requested, instead of reading it, he’d put his mostly full mug of tea on the table nearby and unexpectedly settled himself in the chair next to me, a little too close for perfect ease. Periodically he’d make a small sound of enlightenment, and jot something down on his notes, but mostly he watched my drawing progress. Ignoring this scrutiny, I kept working, adding detail and shading, building up volume and trying to capture the translucence of the little figurine.

The scholar’s proximity proved to be useful, however. At one point I paused as I detailed the lower edge of the piece, not knowing how to proceed without referring to the underside of the small figure, which I couldn’t see, or touch to turn over. Dr. Danneru noticed my hesitation, and after checking Miss Laguna’s whereabouts he reached out, criminally barehanded, and gently rolled the piece onto its back on the padded tray. Afterwards, the guilty fingertip brushed his lip in a conspiratorial request for silence, which I had no intention of breaking.

Before long I was through, and stood back to check my drawn work against its source object: a visual proof-reading, making certain I’d placed on the paper all the information needed to transmit the form and spirit of the spectacular little figure successfully to a hypothetical viewer who would never see the original object. Dr. Danneru stood, too. “Satisfied?” he asked, regarding me obliquely. I nodded, and he summoned Miss Laguna, who came over directly. She seemed relieved to be putting the item away; I suspected she didn’t feel quite right about the “irregularity” of letting me draw the piece, even sanctioned by Dr. Danneru’s haughty authority.

Satisfied? It was an unusual choice of words, but I was satisfied: in my sketch I’d captured both the precision of the artisan’s work, and the vivid imagery carved in the fragrant tree-gem. I’ve included the finished rendering here, since I think that the drawing will give a better idea of the remarkable piece than my words could.

As I finished, it was just nine o’clock, closing time. Out in the main reading room, the janitor was pushing a drymop around the chairs, shoving each one in tidily after she cleaned under it. The thick glass that separated the main room from Special Collections muted the skid of the chairs’ heavy wooden feet on the linoleum floor. The janitor was nodding her head rhythmically to music we couldn’t hear, coming from an aged radio perched on top of her supplies cart. The security guard smiled and said something, and she smiled too and kept dipping her head and guiding the broom. On our cloistered side of the glass, Miss Laguna, Ganskopf Special Collections Librarian, still pristine-fingered in her purple non-latex gloves, took up the tray with the small amber sculpture on it, to nestle it safely in its climate-stabilized, fire-proofed, motion-detectored, authorized personnel only, pest-free drawer in Secured Stacks.

As she passed me, she stepped in the small pool of contraband tea spilled earlier by Dr. Danneru.

The Ganskopf Foundation is an august and well-funded institution, its seasoned custodial staff diligent and conscientious. Each week without fail they buff the Library’s venerable linoleum to a waxy gleam, imparting to its smooth surface an elegant sheen.

In an instant the librarian’s foot slipped from under her, and her hands involuntarily jerked upward, still clutching the tray. While we watched helplessly, the precious object launched straight into the air over our heads, turning over and over – each turn in its tumbling arc seemingly lasting an eon – then it plunged back down from its height. Suddenly spry, Dr. Danneru lunged forward, palm outstretched, but I was in his path, and we collided. I crashed hard into the heavy wooden table, which lurched, sloshing a warm wave of tea from the mug, drenching my soluble sketch.

The plummeting object actually brushed his reaching fingertips, but this barely altered its descent. I heard someone swear loudly – I don’t know which of us did – loudly enough so that through the glass I saw the janitor turn, her mouth open, catching sight of the commotion. Then I heard the sound of bright amber shattering, brittle against old linoleum.

Then silence.

Ribs aching, I pushed myself off the table and stared. Amber was everywhere – liquid amber tea soaking the white paper and umber lines I’d drawn; the scholar’s shocked amber eyes open wide above a wrist pressed ineffectually against his mouth; glittering fragments of amber sprayed across the floor; shivered amber spangling Miss Laguna’s dark skirt and shoes where she sprawled among the fragrant shards, cradling one arm.

“Leyla, are you all right?” Dr. Danneru asked, bending towards her, hands outstretched. The librarian shook her head, then nodded, then shook her head again; she looked angry, and her cheeks were wet. He helped her up, their shoes crunching amber grit. It seemed as if the scholar wasn’t concerned about trying to recover what was left of the object he’d just been studying so minutely, so intimately. It was me, the non-expert, kneeling on the floor meticulously collecting shards, carefully trying to gather them up, keep them together. Dr. Danneru told me, “Leave it.” I looked up. He said quietly, “That’s what conservation departments are for.”

It was at this point that the security guard, alerted by the janitor, tardily burst into the room. Absurdly, his hand was hovering over his sidearm, in case shooting was called for. “Is everything all right in here?” he asked.

No one said a thing.


(stay tuned for the Epilogue to the Ganskopf Incident)

Posted by Allison on Aug 26th 2010 | Filed in artefaux,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (2)

The Ganskopf Collection: Dr. Danneru’s artifact

This is the seventh installment in a series. To read all the episodes, click here: The Ganskopf Incident or on The Ganskopf Incident category in the sidebar to the left. The earliest posts are at the bottom, scroll down to read them chronologically from the bottom up.

Under the pretext of flexing limbs cramped from sitting and drawing the loose bundles of owl-shaped straw, I had stood up, stretching, and casually meandered over to the table where the sleek Dr. Danneru had left his notes and his Ganskopf artifact momentarily unattended. I was just being nosy. Then I saw the piece he was studying.

On a padded black tray at the scholar’s workplace, next to a page or two of neatly written yet oddly illegible cursive notes, lay an artifact which bore little resemblance to any of the objects I had drawn, except that it too was an owl, or, at least, partly an owl. It looked extremely valuable: the craftsmanship was masterful, and the style, at least to my eye, absolutely unique. It could have been Ghanan, Ainu, Mohenjodaroan, or Q’arafhu, except that it didn’t look exactly like any of them. It was only about four inches from top to bottom, but it was elaborately carved from a solid piece of honey-hued, translucent amber. Or, possibly unfossilized tree resin: as I bent closer to see the details it seemed to emit a gentle coniferous smell, pleasant and distinctive in my nostrils. The ambient fluourescent light passing through the amber to the dark fabric below made detail difficult to see, and I leaned closer still, sliding my magnifier glasses up my nose, to be sure I knew what I was looking at. This near, the resinous scent of the piece was clearer, too, and I drew in a deeper breath in the hope of identifying it.

There was movement behind me, and warmth; hurriedly I straightened and turned, to find Dr. Danneru standing just off my shoulder with a fresh mug of hot tea in his hands. Chin tucked, he was looking down at me with one eyebrow raised in mildly disapproving inquiry, no doubt waiting for me to explain why I was sniffing his artifact. My magnifiers, still high on my nose, enlarged his features alarmingly, making him appear closer than he was. I was annoyed; I had only been looking, but his odd pyrite eyes and that magnified hoisted eyebrow made me feel guilty, furtive, and I snatched the glasses off of my face. “Just curious,” I muttered, and stepped away, farther from the object, and from him.

He didn’t reply; instead, the eyebrow hitched further up, his chin sank further down. At this moment Miss Laguna returned, putting her glasses on, and securing a stray lock of hair with a hair pin. As she did this, I noticed she still wore her purple technical gloves. “Oh,” she said, when she caught sight of me at the other table. “There you are over there. Are you finished with the straw owls?” I nodded, and answered they were ready to go back into secure storage. On an impulse I added, “Miss Laguna?” I indicated the remarkable amber piece. “I’d like to sketch this. Would it be possible to…” I trailed off, seeing her face.

“I’m afraid without Dr. Harrower’s authority that would be highly irregular,” the librarian’s brow crinkled. Was is my imagination, or had I heard what sounded like a genteel snort come from the man behind me when Miss Laguna had mentioned Dr. Harrower’s authority? “Unless,” she hesitated, looking at Dr. Danneru.

Applied to, the scholar finally spoke. “I’m quite finished with the piece for tonight,” he said. “And there is a journal I wish to consult – Miss Laguna,” he asked the librarian, “have Periodicals received the current OHQ? Yes? Then, in the matter of access to this piece, I believe my voice is quite as authoritative as Harmon Harrower’s…”

His voice, I thought suddenly: an eroded Oxbridge veneer over something smooth but more exotic. I’d heard it once before: on the phone… allegedly as my employer. But not Texan. I opened my mouth to say something but he was faster. “I feel certain,” he inquired smoothly, “that you were about to thank Miss Laguna for leaving this item unshelved for a little longer?”

Taking the hint I nodded, and went to get paper and something to draw with, picking up the first thing my hand touched, an aquarelle pencil in burnt umber. “Don’t rush,” Dr. Danneru advised placidly. “Articles in the OHQ are notoriously turgid.” As he turned, a little tea sloshed from his cup onto the floor, but he moved away without noticing. Miss Laguna had gone to retrieve the desired journal, and I was alone with the fragrant artifact.

To be continued…

Posted by Allison on Jul 26th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (3)

Straw Owls in the Ganskopf Special Collection

(This is the sixth installment of a series.  Read the others chronologically by clicking these links: first, second, third, fourth, fifth)

Within a month, a letter from Professor Harrower had arrived requiring me to return to the Ganskopf Institute to draw another selection of mysterious “Owl Fetishes” from the Institute’s diverse collection. The project was still making little sense to me, because of its sporadic and leisurely timing, the odd, anachronistic communication style of my employer, and the curious nature of the pieces themselves. But the money was welcome – a freelance technical artist’s pay can be unreliable at times – so of course, when summoned, I went.

And at last, after prehistoric pebbles, pine-bark souvenirs, Attic coins, and other miscellany, the Special Collections librarian Miss Laguna had brought out something really odd – two items that conformed a little more closely to my expectations of what “mystery relics” ought to be. It was a pair of strange straw owl “dolls” – really just owl-like shapes about 8 and 10 inches tall – bound with colored twine and smelling a bit mildewy, like an old barn. One was an extremely rudimentary representation, faceless, and owlish only because of its proportions and an aura of eyeless alertness.  This was due to the presence, perhaps deliberate, of “ears” at the folded axis of the straw representing its head. The other, held together with a faded purple cord and made with a greener straw, was owly and anthropomorphic, with stunted wing-like “arms” jutting out to the side, and thick-thighed legs. It had more of a face, with eyes and beak stitched on in the purple cord, and straw blossoms jutting up in a V to indicate “horns”. The stitched eyes looked blank, and its slightly torqued posture gave it the impression of motion, but also made it look impaired somehow, damaged: the effect was unsettling. Equally disturbing was the fact that both owls appeared blind – not the standard presentation of open-eyed owliness, especially common in folk-art.  Neither figure stood upright, but appeared to be meant to either hang, or simply lie flat.

Their straw was spotted and stained, and the pieces looked fragile; in fact, each had shed a few crumbs and fragments of dry fiber onto the black velvet pillow. Miss Laguna allowed the crumbs to lie there, and gently passing a non-latex purple-gloved hand above them, explained that all the bits and pieces would have to go back in the drawer with the objects after I was through. She set them down a little farther from me than usual, then looked at me and said seriously, “Please, I must ask you to not breathe on them. They suffer in the presence of moisture.” This earnest instruction, together with the moldy smell of old straw, had the instant effect of making me need to sneeze, which I tried to suppress as I nodded my head and began to set up my gear with watering eyes.

It was going to take a long time: my sketches needed to accurately reflect the number and placement of each fiber of straw, and also I wanted to be especially sure to capture the creepiness of the purple-twined figure’s posture. I’d forgotten my watch, so I glanced up through the Special Collection’s front glass to check the wall-clock in the main reading room. As I did, I noticed another patron: once again, it was the sleek Dr. Danneru. He was talking on a cell phone, nonchalantly stationed right under a sign plainly forbidding cell phone use. When he saw me looking, he turned away as if for privacy, although I couldn’t hear him through the glass.  The rules just don’t apply to some people, I thought, and turned back to my work.

The sketches did take a long time. Miss Laguna, despite her concern over the decomposing straw pieces I was drawing, left me largely on my own. This was in order to see attentively to the needs of her other patron, who had finished his phone call, passed through the metal detector and past the security guard into Special Collections, and was currently viewing a Ganskopf item at the table behind me. I was not surprised to see a steaming mug held in one of his hands as if it were too hot to drink, but too coveted to put down. The grassy – and pricey – aroma of green Rooibos tea reached me where I sat, mildly irked by the scholar’s flagrantly bootlegged luxury beverage, when I had been instructed to not even breathe.

A couple of hours passed in the near silence of the Special Collections room. By then my back had stiffened up from leaning across the table to get closer to the straw figures, and it was getting dark outside.  I found it necessary to stand up to straighten out: I extended my arms over head, cracked my neck, and twisted my torso right, then left. Then right again, quickly checking behind me: Dr. Danneru had disappeared – perhaps to fetch fresh tea – leaving his notes on the table, along with the black cushion and his study object. He must have left quietly, because I’d never noticed. Miss Laguna was nowhere in sight, either. As if merely stretching my legs, I casually sauntered over to the other table, curious to see if the scholar was studying an owl I’d already drawn. He wasn’t. I stared.

Now, there was a “mystery relic”…

To be continued…

Posted by Allison on Jun 4th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (2)

Two more Ganskopf “fetishes”: stone owls or just rocks?

This is the fifth installment of the Ganskopf series.  Read the first, second, third and fourth here.

“Professor Harrower wants to speak to me?” I asked, surprised.  Miss Laguna nodded, and pushed the phone towards me in the air.

After months of contact by letter — and snail mail at that — to say that I was surprised to be called on the phone, at the Ganskopf Library, by Professor Harrower was putting it mildly (not to mention how much it sounded like an Accusation in Clue).  I put the phone to my ear, its tangled coil-cord knocking over a cup of pens on Miss Laguna’s desk.  “Yes?” I asked.  The professor spoke in a quiet voice, tinted with a soft accent I couldn’t quite place.  With no pleasantries except a “good afternoon”, he made his request directly and said goodbye.  I handed the phone back to Miss Laguna, who had managed to take the entire length of the call to reorganize the pen cup.

“Miss Laguna, do you know Harmon Harrower personally?” I asked.  She nodded, and explained he made infrequent trips to the Collection.  I asked, “Do you happen to know where he’s from, I mean originally?”

“Texas,” she replied, “born and raised.  I believe his PhD is from Rice.”

“No kidding?  He’s an Owl?”  This seemed too odd to be coincidence.  “Well, Professor Harrower has another two ‘fetishes’ he wants me to render before I leave.  How late is the Library open?”

“Until 9pm.  There’s plenty of time if you’d like me to pull them for you,” she said.

“Then, would you mind?” I gave her the scrap of paper with the accession numbers, and moved back to a table to unpack my kit.  She returned promptly with two tiny figures, this time with hands once again carefully encased by purple latex gloves.

Here is the finished aquarelle pencil and ink illustration:

Again, I omit detailed notes on them here, except to say that the items were stone owls, no more than two inches tall, perhaps made owl-like by human hands, or perhaps just fortuitously owly cobbles.  I leaned as close as I could to the velvet pillow, and peered at the objects through my magnifying glasses.  There was a shininess or patina on them — especially around the bellies and beaks — that could have been made by frequent handling or rubbing.  I leaned back.  I suppose if I ever found an owl-shaped stone, I’d pick it up, too: just because they might not be fabricated didn’t mean they weren’t artifacts.  My gut feeling was that human-shaped or not, they could be very, very ancient; prehistoric ancient, even.

For these two “fetishes”, I chose a stippling technique to render their patinated, weathered cortex, remembering how effective that technique was for drawing Acheulian stone handaxes and other cobble-based implements during a summer internship at the Lancaster Anthropology Museum.

As I worked on the preliminary sketches, various facts kept the analytical part of my brain occupied: Professor Harrower wanted the illustrations for an article.  But he had been working on this article for an awfully long time — wouldn’t he want to catch the wave of public interest in these “mystery relics”?  And also, why were his payments and re-imbursements to me always in the form of money orders, rather than checks from his University?  On further reflection, I decided this might be because he was moonlighting — writing a piece for a popular publication, not a technical journal.  This could explain why exact measurements weren’t critical; also, why he had asked for colorful renderings.  (The objects themselves tended to be mute in color, so I’d solved this with bright backgrounds, which had seemed to satisfy him.)  But mostly what I reflected on was this: the absolute certainty that, based on the speaker’s accent, my phone conversation today was not with a Texan.

With provocative thoughts like these, time passed quickly, but it was a little after nine when I finished up.  Miss Laguna had already put on her coat.  I asked if she would let me buy her a quick dinner by way of thanks for holding the Library open a bit late (I could afford it, I was working with a per diem).  She smiled, but said she had to get to her night job, so I just grabbed a slice of pizza on the way back to the hotel.

In general, the food here isn’t as good as in New Elgin, and the pizza was heavy and soft with flabby cheese.  As I walked along the street struggling one-handed to keep it from dripping oil on my sweater, I wondered: what do you suppose a special collections librarian does for a night job?

To be continued.

Posted by Allison on Mar 25th 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (3)

Return to Ganskopf fetishes

(This is the fourth installment in the series: read the others here, here and here.)

Several months went by before I heard from Professor Harrower again.  This hiatus surprised me, because the press had kept up with a stream of cheesey, sensationalist Ganskopf “mystery relic” articles, keeping public interest simmering.  But eventually a letter came in which Harrower requested that I return to the Ganskopf Foundation special collection to draw another batch of  owl “fetishes”.  He didn’t say anything about whether the completed drawings were satisfactory or not, and I didn’t ask, since the payment for each had come promptly.

So before long I once again found myself waiting in the secure reading room for the librarian, Miss Laguna, to return with the items nestled into a black velvet pillow.  Hoisting my bag onto the battered tabletop, I set out my lamp (I’d upgraded to a natural light fluorescent, which, conveniently, didn’t get hot and produced a clear, color-true light), mechanical pencil, spare leads, small sketchbook, drugstore magnifying glasses, and kneaded eraser.  It still bothered me not to be able to use calipers for exact measurement — I was never allowed even to touch the pieces so calipers were out of the question — which for me put my finished product in the realm of illustration rather than technical rendering.  While I waited, I looked around the Collection reading room for changes, but saw none.  There was still a security officer at the metal detector, and once again, there was no sign of other patrons, including the sleek “Dr. Danneru” and his contraband mug of tea, who still was the only person I’d ever seen consulting the collection.

Miss Laguna came back with the pillow, and set it on the table in front of me casually. I noticed there were no purple gloves in sight.  I looked at the new set of “owls”.  “But…” I exclaimed.  Miss Laguna shrugged and walked away.

On the pillow lay three stamped metal lumps.  I’m no numismatist, but they appeared to be ancient coins, pretty straightforward artifacts: one, clearly a silver Athenian tetradrach, one a very small gold coin, perhaps Hellenistic or Roman (that late stuff was never my strength in Art History), and the third brass, which, on closer inspection, emitted the air of forgery.  Except for the fact they each depicted an owl, I couldn’t see any connection between these and supposed “mystery relics”, but it wasn’t my call.  Shaking my head, I started to draw, working as quickly as possible without being careless.doktorG As with the other fetishes, I made notes for each one, but will not include them here.

The sketches didn’t take long, but I had one more thing to do.  When Miss Laguna returned to fetch the group of owls, I held out a photocopy of a grainy photo which Becca the computer maven had dredged up from an old newspaper obituary, in an only slightly fruitful fit of detective work after my last visit to the Foundation.

“Oh,” she said, “that’s Doktor G — Dr. Ganskopf.  Just before he died.  Poor man; he was sick for so long,” and handed the photo back to me.

As she did — and before I could get any questions asked — the library’s desk phone rang.  “Excuse me,” said Miss Laguna.  I began to pack up.  I had just gotten all my equipment back into its bag, when I realized that Miss Laguna was waving at me with one hand, and holding the phone up in the other.

“Prof Harrower wishes to speak with you.”

To be continued.

Posted by Allison on Feb 2nd 2010 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (4)

Further Ganskopf owl fetishes

(The third in a series: read the first and second parts)

It had been a while since I’d had a note from professor Harrower with Ganskopf numbers to illustrate, and there had been some changes at the Foundation since my last visit. Stanley was still at the front door in his epauletted shirt and ill-fitting trousers with the gold side-stripes, but now there was a sternly uniformed security guard at the Special Collections entrance.  He had no name tag and a sidearm.  Also, the old-school turnstyle had been replaced by a state of the art metal-detector.

Another difference was the librarian’s custodianship — after making sure I was settled, Miss Laguna left me alone with the day’s owls, which she’d never done before.  This may have been because for the first time since I’d been coming to the Foundation Library, there was another patron there, also viewing an item from the Collection.  When I asked, Miss Laguna emphatically whispered “That’s Dr. Danneru” and glided solicitously back across the room to his table.  I couldn’t see what he was accessing — the piece was sunk deeply into its black velvet cushion.  So while pretending to fuss with my lamp, I spent a moment studying the man instead, but couldn’t tell much.  An academic, probably (who else would be here?), although he emitted a mildly exotic sleekness (“Europeaness” Becca would call it snarkily, making it a point to pronounce it anatomically) that didn’t coincide with my experience of university professors.  Maybe this explained why Miss Laguna was overlooking the steaming cup of contraband on the table next to him — or maybe had even supplied it: while I was confined to dry media and a dry throat, “Dr. Danneru” had hot tea.

Still, I wasn’t truly jealous of Miss Laguna’s attention: it was easier to draw without anyone attending me, and I could focus on the current crop of “fetishes”. It was a mixed group of owls: two of stone, and one of a brass-like metal. Here is the finished rendering, along with my hasty notes.

From left to right:

  • GKC/orn111a (3.23cm ht): carved red-veined marble cobble in the shape of an “earless” owl.  The Library catalog describes it as “alabaster”.  Feet hooflike.  Note to Professor Harrower: I don’t know what the backs of these pieces look like; without Miss Laguna’s once-again purple-gloved fingers nearby, I was not able to touch the artefacts to turn them over.
  • GKC/orn98a (3.88cm ht): carved semi-transluscent green stone — jade, jadeite, nephrite?  also an “earless” owl, its ventral vermiculation or maculation indicated by a sort of checkerboard.  Chip in head above left eye.  Tail? toes? at bottom of piece indicated by five points.  Must be tail; why would there be five toes?  Didn’t GKC/orn335f also have 5 toes?
  • GKC/orn399d (3.10cm ht): also “earless” although it gives the impression of having ears put back in irritation like a cat. This is the only metal owl I’ve seen so far; cast? brass? bronze?  The Library catalog uses the abbreviation “br” which is not helpful.  In brackets next to that are three characters in a stroke-character alphabet I don’t recognize except they are not Greek or Cyrillic.  When no one was looking, I tipped this one up just a little with the eraser end of my mechanical pencil, and could see a small loop on the back, as if it were meant to be hung on a cord or sewn to a garment.

My stay was shorter than usual: I worked rapidly to complete the pencil sketches and packed up in a hurry, burning my fingers on the lampshade. After indicating to Miss Laguna she could return the owls to their secret nests in the secure stacks, I rushed back to my hotel room and laptop — there was something I was eager to look up.

Posted by Allison on May 24th 2009 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (4)

Another trio of Ganskopf owl “fetishes”

(The second in a series: read the first here)

The next session at the Ganskopf Foundation Library was much like the last (the first I omitted because no drawing actually occurred, just filling out lengthy forms, and being issued a visitor’s ID).  This second appointment had also been arranged by Professor Harrower.  Once again he’d sent the list of three accession numbers to request for illustration by regular postal mail — I still haven’t met him in person.

After I’d signed in and passed through the security turnstyle, the same librarian, Miss Laguna, came out of the glass office to meet me.  Like last time, I was the only patron there.  I handed her the note with the acquisition numbers of the target owls.  She seemed to hesitate slightly when she saw it and read the numbers, but she disappeared into the secure stacks and left me at the same table as before to set up my graphite pencils, kneaded eraser, and pad.  This time I had brought my own desk lamp, and plugged it in where she had indicated.  The stronger directional light made a big difference: fluorescent ceiling lighting flattens everything out and distorts color.

When she returned, Miss Laguna had three “fetishes” on the black pillow, and as she walked two of them clunked together a little at each step.  Her casualness about this, after last time with the rubber gloves and special measures, was surprising.  These owls were larger than the previous selections, each being several inches long, and made of what looked to me like pine bark.

Here are brief descriptive notes from that session:

  • GKC/orn247 a-b (shown above, green background): these two squat, eccentric owls are very similar to item GKC/orn872b which I drew last time: “eared” owls made of bark, probably pine.  They differ from the earlier one in that more deliberate geometric and linear carving has been made on their surface, instead of merely allowing the fissures in the bark to show owlishness.  My unscientific response is that these carvings are humorous, and they make me laugh.  I’ve drawn them together since they seem, at least by accession number, to be associated, although to my eye they don’t have much else in common, other than being small pinebark owls.
  • The third figure, GKC/orn644f (right), seems too large to call a “fetish” — it’s 10.3 cm in height, and what I would characterize as anthropomorphic: it looks like an “Owl-man” because its legs are long and end in paw-like feet rather than talons.  As with the other two, the back is flat and un-altered, except for a vertical groove indicating the legs, which corresponds poorly to the one in the front.  I find this one a bit creepy: with no arms (or wings) and an uneven, stretched silhouette, it seems like a hostile doll, up to no good when no one’s looking.

But creepy or humorous, these pieces looked to me like indigeno pine bark carvings sold in tourist shops in Chihuahua — admirable folk art, but not “mystery relics” as they’re being called in the press, and not particularly ancient.  However, I’m not an expert.

I mentioned that to Miss Laguna, and asked if she knew why the Herr Doktor Ganskopf had collected them, but her answer was incomplete, something like, “They’re cute, but the other one is more…”  I asked if she meant Creepy Owl-man, but she said no, the simpler pine-bark owl from my previous visit. When I asked if it would it be possible to see that one again, she told me it was on loan that week, and lifted the pillow with the fetishes and took them back to the secure stacks.  I unplugged my lamp so the bulb had time to cool.

The only other thing that happened was that when I got out to the parking lot, it was raining and the car had a flat tire.  Glen, the parking attendant, offered to put the doughnut on for me, but I told him it was a rental, and they would fix it.  It took the rental company guy forever to find the place, but he finally arrived and took care of it.

Posted by Allison on Apr 22nd 2009 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (3)

Ganskopf collection of small bird imagery: selected owl fetishes

Episode 1

During this session the staff once again permitted me to sketch the objects only with dry media, so I brought graphite pencils and a kneaded eraser, which does not produce erasure pills.  This made it necessary to add colors later with watercolor, from memory, since photos are not allowed, either.  During the appointment the objects — elevated on a black velvet cushion — stayed on the other side of the table, as did the librarian, who turned them for me if I required to see the back, or a profile.  She wore bright purple non-latex gloves, like a medical technician drawing blood, to keep finger oils and sweat off of the surfaces.

The descriptions below are my personal non-technical notes, observations both descriptive and ornithological (to the extent possible), made to assist me in capturing the quality of the surfaces later.  The Library Catalog entries for these objects include blurry, low-contrast black-and-white photos, with only brief notations of dimension, and accession date and source where known; very few have these.  The uncredited author uses the word “fetish” to refer to all of the smaller owls, probably because of their size and three-dimensional form.  There is no actual evidence of ritual use or function.  Note: scale of objects is approximate since I was not allowed to touch the objects to obtain measurements. Therefore, dimensions given are maximum in any axis, as stated in the Library Catalog.

  • The “fetish” on the left, GKC/orn926g, is a naturally pitted, tool-altered brown quartzite cobble bound in a jute-like fiber with a cylindrical turquoise-glazed ceramic bead strung on the front.  (H: 9.7cm, W: 5.9cm, D: 5.6cm; no provenance)  It depicts an “eared” owl, perhaps of the genus Bubo, species unknown, with open eyes.  The tail is indicated by parallel grooves, which would have taken some effort to engrave in the hard stone.  Tool marks are not discernible.  Back unaltered.  Bead, modern (? I have seen similar beads in mall bead shops, imported from India.)
  • The middle “fetish”, GKC/orn872b, is also an “eared” owl with open eyes, made from tree bark, possibly pine, the natural delaminations and grooves in the bark give the impression of feathery striations.  Traces of blueish pigments are visible in the deepest crevices.  Back unaltered by maker; shows bore-tracks of pine-infesting insects.  (H: 6.2cm, W:3.1cm, D: 2.3cm; no provenance)
  • The “fetish” on the right, GKC/orn335f, is terracotta textured while still moist.  Also an owl with cranial tufts; partly closed or squinting eyes.  One tuft and the opposite foot or leg are marked with concentric grooves.  Back has three parallel linear impressions, perhaps to indicate tail feathers.  One foot has two talons, the other three.  (H: 5.1cm, W: 4.6cm, D: 3.6cm; no provenance).

The fact that these “fetishes” depict “eared”-type owls does not help to pin-point their origins.  There are owls with cranial tufts on nearly every continent belonging to, for example, both the large (Bubo) and the small (Scops) genuses.

Again, my thanks to the Ganskopf Foundation for allowing me access to the collection in order to illustrate these enigmatic pieces and the permission to reproduce them here, and special thanks to librarian Leyla Laguna. The images here are the property of the Ganskopf Collection and may not be produced without written permission.

Posted by Allison on Mar 28th 2009 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,drawn in,pseudopod waltz,The Ganskopf Incident | Comments (3)